Some will say the pain is in their neck while others describe a stabbing pain on the right side of their foreheads.
When describing accompanying symptoms, people are all over the map: dizziness, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, weakness or tingling in an arm or leg, extreme light sensitivity, constipation and flashing lights.
You’ll hear a litany of migraine triggers: drinking red wine, eating hot dogs, overdoing the regular coffee, listening to loud music…and the list goes on.
Some people experience all four phases of a migraine like clockwork. Others won’t have short prodome and an aura before an attack. While most people feel drained by the time they reach the postdrome, which is the last phase, a few are euphoric and full of energy in the aftermath.
When it comes to migraine headache symptoms, two things are clear:
- The phases of a migraine you experience, the symptoms you display (as well as when they come on and how long they last) and the trigger causes are unique to you.
- To discover treatments and lifestyle changes that reduce the severity, duration and frequency of your migraines, you need to pay attention to your triggers and symptoms. Then, write everything down in a journal.
Watch for Anything Out of the Ordinary—It May Not Be a Migraine
Migraines belong to the primary headache classification, which means they are NOT the result of trauma, such as a concussion, illness, or underlying medical condition. Conditions that may cause headaches include high blood pressure, strokes and more. Always watch for any symptoms out of the ordinary, such as:
- A chronic headache becomes more severe after sudden movements, including coughing, straining or sitting up quickly.
- A severe headache that comes on abruptly—often described as being like a thunderclap.
- A headache plus fever, confusion, seizures, numbness or weakness on one side, double vision, difficulty talking or reading.
- A headache after a head injury, especially if the headache’s severity increases and doesn’t go away.
- A headache combined with extreme sleepiness.
A severe headache may be a symptom of a more serious medical condition—even if you regularly suffer from migraines. Always pay close attention. A secondary headache (symptomatic of illness, injury or underlying medical problem) could be life threatening. When in doubt, contact your physician immediately.
Consider Natural Treatments for Your Symptoms
For some people, natural alternatives are good options. Research in Sweden, for example, suggests that regular, mild-to-moderate cardio exercise is virtually as effective as topiramate, a common migraine preventative.1
Here are a few options that may help relieve pain and reduce frequency and duration of your migraine symptoms:
- Aromatherapy—Peppermint, basil and lavender oils inhaled or applied topically. If you use concentrated essential oils, you’ll need to dilute in a carrier, such as sweet almond or apricot kernel oil.
- Mind-Body Therapy—Yoga, massage, meditation and chiropractic adjustment.
- Acupuncture and Acupressure—Research suggests acupuncture may do more than relieve migraine pain; it may reduce the duration and frequency of attacks.2 Acupressure may relieve some pain and stiffness.
- Supplements—Vitamins (especially B vitamins), feverfew, butterbur, magnesium, CoQ10, ginger (for nausea) and omega-3 fatty acids.
Natural treatments for symptoms typically present fewer side effects than medications. At the same time, some of the herbs and supplements may not be safe for pregnant women or patients with other medical conditions and they may not be taken in conjunction with certain drugs. Talk with your doctor and a naturopath specializing in natural migraine treatments.
Opt for Medications to Treat Symptoms
Several medications are FDA-approved for migraine treatment. The general rule, however, is to start small and increase gradually. The best thing you can do is to work with your physician, who might tell you to try non-prescription analgesics or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen and ibuprofen first. If you are concerned about stomach irritation, kidney or liver damage with overuse, discuss dosages with him or her.
If you’re not getting enough relief, your physician may suggest a prescription medication for pain or nausea. Other drugs help reduce the frequency and duration of your migraines:
- Triptan (pain relief)
Triptans help constrict blood vessels in the brain that relieve painful swelling and pressure and may also help alleviate nausea and light sensitivity symptoms.
- Topiramate (prevention)
Research suggests that this anti-epileptic drug may help reduce your migraine attacks.3
- Beta Blocker (prevention)
Beta blockers, commonly used to treat high blood pressure, relax blood vessels and help prevent migraines.
- Anti-depressant (prevention/pain relief)
Tricyclic antidepressants, most commonly used to treat migraines, work to reduce frequency and duration of attacks and also may help relieve pain.
- BOTOX® (prevention)
Since BOTOX® received FDA approval in 2010, the popular cosmetic treatment for wrinkles is showing promise as an effective migraine treatment.
- Narcotic Analgesic (pain relief)
Opioids and opiates are strong pain relief; they are also highly addictive.
While medications can be effective, they often have side effects. Contact your physician about any problems or new symptoms, such as dizziness, vision problems or confusion. Also, overuse can bring on rebound or medication overuse headaches. Follow your doctor’s recommended doses. If you are pregnant, have other medical conditions or are taking supplements, tell your doctor.
There is no silver bullet for treating migraine headache symptoms. But with your healthcare provider’s help, you can find a regimen to reduce the severity, duration and frequency of your attacks.
1 Varkey E, Cider A, Carlsson J, Linde M. “Exercise as migraine prophylaxis: a randomized study using relaxation and topiramate as controls.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3236524/. Accessed April 4, 2016.
2 Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. “Acupuncture for migraine prophylaxis.” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3099267/. Accessed April 4, 2016.
3 Naegel S, Obermann M. “Topiramate in the prevention and treatment of migraine: efficacy, safety and patient preference.: Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat., http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2951059/. Accessed April 4, 2016.
BOTOX® is a registered trademark of Allergan.